I’m sitting on a chair in my apartment. One leg crossed over the other, one bare foot resting on the cool, wooden floor. I sip a beer that’s no longer cold, dragging out the last of it and the last of the night with it. The kitchen table is a museum of nights well spent: a few empty glasses, a half-eaten cheeseboard, a near-finished game of Scrabble.
The voices around me are familiar. The most familiar. They’re the voices I grew up with and was raised by — the voices that taught me how to find my own.
“Double letter. Triple word. So that’s… thirty-six points,” says my dad, brow furrowed and pen etching the numbers onto our scorecard.
My mum and I exchange an eye-roll, as is customary when big Iain inevitably wins yet another round of this game I’ve been trying to beat him at since I was a young teenager with a face full of hope, optimism, and incredibly painful acne. (Sidenote: don’t play word games with two journalists. It’s like challenging The Rock to an arm wrestle.)
I finished the game within a point of victory but, right after, we reached the stage in a family evening where things start getting rationed because all the shops are shut: “is that the last of the crackers?” “Any chocolate left?” “Slow down on that beer, ya fanny.”
With the food and the Scrabble board pushed aside, all that’s left is the sound of our voices and half a bottle of wine. Prior to this, we hadn’t seen one another for a few months, but you would think it had only been a few days. That’s the joy of conversation (and alcohol): if you like the people you’re sharing it with, it flows freely and goes down easy.
I got to thinking about all of the conversations I’ve had with my parents over the years. Happy ones punctuated by smiles and sad ones punctured by grief. Excited ones buoyed by laughter and hurt ones sunk by silence.
I thought about how just the sound of the voice of someone you love can put you at ease instantly. I thought of all the different tables I’ve sat at with my parents in all the different kitchens in all the different cities. I thought of how no matter where we are, sitting around a table and having a conversation always feels the same. How it always feels like home.
It feels the same when I talk to my brother while we’re sprawled across opposite sides of a sofa or — more commonly now — over the phone when we’re both slightly (massively) drunk. It feels the same when I meet with friends I only see once or twice a year, when “a quick drink,” turns into six because I want to sit there laughing and talking and listening to them forever.
For the first twenty years of my life, Scotland was home. For four years after that, it was Toronto. Since almost a year ago now, it’s been Halifax. Whether I’m happy living in a certain place has always depended largely on the connections I’ve made there.
In Scotland, I have sweet, caring friends who have known me for years. We grew up together through the best of times and the worst of times. We sing and laugh and cry together in the back of taxis. We celebrate birthdays and weddings and new jobs together. We occasionally vomit on one another in bar bathrooms. We have no secrets, because we went through them in real time, side by side, before they became secrets. We don’t need to talk every day to know we’ll be there for each other, any day.
In Toronto, I was lucky enough to meet friends who are equally sweet and caring. I realised something there: nobody knew a thing about me. For the first time in my life, it was up to me to decide how much of myself I let people in on.
I could’ve just allowed them to pick at my corners, never quite revealing what was underneath. I did that for a while, revelling in the short-lived joy of false reinvention. I became a version of myself I hadn’t been before — untouched by the past, unfazed by life, living in the present with no history.
My friendships when I first moved to Toronto were fun, but they weren’t as fulfilling as what I had at home. I initially thought it was because I hadn’t known my new friends for long enough. Eventually, I came to understand it was because I was pretending to be something I wasn’t — erasing your past is easier than explaining it, after all.
For so long, I censored my conversations in so many ways. I was terrified of truly being myself in front of people who didn’t know me. I was worried that I talked too much, that I shared too much, that I said “cunt,” too much (I do).
It took a trip back to Scotland and a reunion with my friends for me to realise that it was all of these things, and so many others, that had brought me close to them and created those relationships that I cherished so much in the first place.
I returned to Toronto. Through the magic of conversation, I started sharing things with my new friends. Every failure I admitted to, every moment of weakness I shared instead of turning away felt like a step towards something else. It felt like going home.
Now, more than five years later, I cherish my friends in Toronto and Halifax the same way I cherish those in Scotland. I hear stories in bars and feel the warm glow that’s born when good company mixes with cheap beer. I talk to anyone who’s willing to listen and I listen to anyone who’s willing to talk. I share tales of my adventures and misadventures and giggle over nothing.
It’s not home, but it sure feels like it.